Michigan renewed its plea to close Chicago shipping locks

By John Flesher

AP Environmental Writer

TRAVERSE CITY (AP) -- Michigan renewed its plea last Thursday for the U.S. Supreme Court to close Chicago shipping locks that could provide a pathway for Asian carp to attack the Great Lakes and wreak havoc on their $7 billion fishing industry.

State Attorney General Mike Cox told the justices they had denied Michigan's request last month without knowing that scientists had detected genetic material from the carp in Lake Michigan for the first time.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers learned of the carp DNA find Jan. 15 but did not inform the high court until hours after the Jan. 19 ruling, Solicitor General Elena Kagan acknowledged in a letter to the court clerk.

The court should reconsider its ruling because of that disclosure and because the Army Corps and Illinois are moving too slowly to prevent a carp invasion of the lakes, Cox said in a written motion.

"It is sadly apparent that, left to its own inertia, the Corps is inclined to stall and rationalize away the facts until it is too late to prevent Asian carp from becoming established in Lake Michigan," he said. "Thus, the need for immediate action by this Court is even more urgent."

Lynn Whelen, spokeswoman for the Army Corps' Chicago district, said she could not comment on pending litigation. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources and state attorney general's office also declined to comment.

Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, is scheduled to discuss the carp issue today in Washington with three of the region's governors: Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, Jim Doyle of Wisconsin and Pat Quinn of Illinois.

Bighead and silver carp, both Asian species, have been migrating toward the Great Lakes through the Mississippi and Illinois rivers for decades.

Scientists say the carp, which can reach 4 feet in length and 100 pounds, could starve out popular sport fish such as salmon and trout.

The Army Corps said last month it was confident its strategy -- including construction of a third electronic barrier in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and poisoning waterways where necessary -- would prevent the carp from taking hold in the lakes.

No actual carp have been found between the barrier and Lake Michigan.

One dead carp turned up just south of the barrier -- more than 25 miles from the lake -- after officials poisoned the canal in December.

Locks and gates in the waterways are leaky and closing them would not be a foolproof method of protecting Lake Michigan, Gen. John Peabody of the Army Corps said in January.

Cox's motion also said a new Wayne State University study cast doubt on claims by Illinois and federal officials that closing the locks would cost the Chicago economy about $190 million annually.

The study by John C. Taylor, a transportation specialist, said the losses likely would be closer to $70 million.

"This stands in contrast to the billions in economic activity and thousands of jobs at risk if Asian carp enter the Great Lakes," Cox said.

Minnesota, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, New York and the Canadian province of Ontario are supporting a separate Michigan lawsuit seeking closure of the locks and an eventual separation of the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River basin.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Rep. Dave Camp, both of Michigan, have introduced legislation to close the locks.

Published: Mon, Feb 8, 2010